As you scroll through your Instagram feed, have you starting seeing more posts like this?
Or what about this?
And I’m 100% sure you’ve seen some approximation of this.
Thanks to social media — and particularly Instagram — corporate brands, retailers, museums, and event planners have completely changed the way they do business. Where there were once restrictions on photography, snapping selfies is now encouraged. Why? It’s the best free advertisement that money can’t buy.
It’s a well-documented fact that social media pressures all of us to present the best versions of our lives. We post photos of ourselves on perfect vacations, out on perfect dinner dates with our perfect significant others, and, for the perfect parents among us, perfect photos of our perfect (and adorable) children. It can be exhausting and bad for your mental health (and, in response, a number of people have quit social media as an act of self preservation), but it’s a godsend to anyone trying to sell something.
The formula is simple: Whatever your business, make the product or experience you’re selling pretty or visually interesting and encourage people to take photos. The absolute master of this artform is Refinery29’s 29 Rooms — a giant Instagram trap divided into, you guessed it, 29 different rooms, many of which are sponsored by major brands.
In addition to a genius money-making venture for Refinery29 (consumers buy tickets while brands also pay to sponsor the rooms), 29 Rooms is an indicator of the next stage in the evolution of out-of-home marketing. Once upon a time brands would simply put their logo on a piece of merchandise and hope that the purchaser was influential enough that other people would want to buy it, too. Someone wearing a t-shirt with a big swoosh on it was effectively advertising for Nike, but passively so – the act of wearing the shirt is an implicit endorsement, but they weren’t explicitly encouraging others to follow suit.
Now, by turning stores into destinations, meals into experiences, and museums into interactive events, marketers have transformed that implicit endorsement into an explicit one. Every time an Instagram user posts about a product or a visit to a restaurant, store, event, or museum, they’re sending a clear signal to everyone who follows them. Even if the caption of the post isn’t along the lines of “You have to try this” (which it often is), the clear message to all that user’s followers is “Look at my exciting and interesting life. You can have this life, too, if you visit this place and engage in this experience I’m posting about.”
How can your brand or organization capitalize on this phenomenon? If you hold events, this is a no brainer — make sure every party, protest, or opening of a store or office has a visually interesting and joyful experience your guests can interact with and photograph. If not, make sure that whatever comprises your primary form of interaction with your audience incorporates a strong visual element and provides some form of incentive to photograph and post it.
Whether your organization is driven by purpose or profit, your most loyal audience will look to align their personal brands with yours — all you have to do is give them the opportunity to do so. And the trust that your audience has built with their audience (their family, friends, and colleagues) will make their message on your behalf far more powerful than a celebrity endorsement.
Andy Warhol’s most quoted comment is his prediction that, in the future, we’d all be famous for 15 minutes. Turns out he was right, but that we’d all use that fame to market someone else’s brand. The smart brands will capitalize on that. Treat every audience member and supporter like they’re famous, and you’ll have hundreds of niche celebrity endorsements.